If I were a beginner at the piano, I would do things differently. Here are 6 things I would do, every single day.

1. Free improvisation

Give it a beginning and an ending. No correcting mistakes. No hesitating. No stuttering. (I will not let myself do these things, no matter what). Enjoy whatever happens.

Sit down at the piano and let yourself play whatever your hands want to play. Trust them to do the work. You can judge what they do, but don’t try to stop them. Get comfortable with that first.

Especially useful if you feel bored by the music you’re working on. Keep experimenting. Remember that it’s called “playing the piano” and not “working the piano.”

Also especially useful if you feel there’s a barrier to improvising because you can only play while looking at the score.

(BTW, this is a better use of your time than mindless scrolling social media.)

2. Just sitting on the bench, doing absolutely nothing

Feeling what it’s like to physically sit there, not playing, not hearing anything. This is called “meditation.”

3. Sight-reading

From beginning to end. No stopping. No hesitating. No correcting mistakes. No stuttering. Full tempo.

This is the best way to learn sight-reading that is enjoyable enough to actually sit down and do it.

Tip: Feeling dispirited after seeing little progress after a year of practice? Don’t measure your practice time in years. Measure it in hours.

4. Working on hard music

With zero expectation of playing it “well”. Just go for it. Pretend to be a great virtuoso. Even if it’s all wrong.

When I was in college, I had a roommate who was on the golf team. Every morning, he woke up at 5:00 to run and do other strenuous exercise with the team. For GOLF!!??

Well, yeah. Training should be hard, so that performance is easy. Work on hard music so that you play the easy music better. If you’re always performing at the edge of your ability, you’ll never have a good performance.

“But, shouldn’t I practice the piece only in small sections until I’m confident enough to put it all together?”

Practicing the piece in small sections is the standard advice you hear from every piano teacher. It’s good for some things, but playing all the way through will build resilience.

“I like to challenge myself to play some pieces that are at least slightly above my level, so when I’m able to master it I know I have improved.”

I don’t care. Try also playing pieces with no intention of mastering them. That’s a different mindset and it will open doors.

5. Recording my playing and posting it online

Not to ask for feedback, but rather to expose myself to the discomfort of doing it. This is called “exposure therapy”. (You can leave your face out.)

If you already do this, you can increase the frequency. Instead of once every 3-4 months, do it once a month. But, I would do it once a day… (and you will too if you’re serious about this.)

6. Playing from memory

Especially when I don’t feel confident. If I get lost, improvise. Play for a recording device, or for an audience.

If you’re a timid performer, this will make it easier for you to get used to being watched.

Learn ALL the skills

Practice these, and also practice their opposites. You want to learn all the skills.

You could even practice purposely making mistakes, to expose yourself to the fear of being wrong. This will build your confidence. When you’re afraid of making mistakes and you avoid them, it makes it harder to recover from them, and then you end up avoiding performing altogether.

(ooh, here’s another one I’m going to add to the list: playing music with others)

Anything that challenges you to go outside your comfort zone. Another thing you can try is being deliberate about where you look. For example, only look at your left hand. Then, only look at your right hand. Then, look at a point off in the distance. Each one gives you a totally different experience.

If it’s not fun, you won’t do it and won’t improve. It’s also worth learning how to enjoy frustration. This is what artists do: find a way to transform difficult emotions into creations.

If you find a way of practicing that works better than what I’m saying here, you should do that instead. Always do what works. (but if you just want to argue, you’re wrong.)

Keep pushing yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to do things in any standard way.

(P.S. Don’t show this post to your piano teacher. They will freak out, especially about not correcting mistakes and playing at full tempo.)

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